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A MindFul of Happy Memories

While the title calling it “happy memories” may be overstating things, i09 had an article yesterday discussing a study published in Nature where scientists were able to create a positive association with a place by stimulating two parts of the mouse’s brain while it slept.  They started feeling positively about a certain location, even though that location had never contained a reward.  In other words, they acted as if they frequently got treats when they went to that location, even though they had never gotten treats there; only zaps to the brain.

It’s like the inverse of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  It’s planting happy, fake memories instead of erasing painful, real memories.

If at some point in the future, happy memories were being doled out — you know, as a pick-me-up to get you through your day — would you take them?  Happy memories of vacations never taken or wonderful relationships that never existed or adoration and accolades that never really came at work?

Would you want them for someone else?  If, let’s say, you had an elderly relative, always depressed that no one came to visit because they lived too far away for visits to be feasible, would you want to plant happy memories of recent visits in her brain so she could smile through her remaining time on earth rather than experiencing grief from loneliness?

Maybe this article just hit me while in a certain mood, but suddenly having happy associations sounded pretty damn good.  If they were real associations, that would obviously be great, but if they were false, well, I wouldn’t know that they weren’t real, would I?  I would just get to enjoy the warm buzz from the thoughts.  Which, I know, doesn’t sound like me.  Usually I’m not one to embrace ersatz anything.  But… I don’t know.

I’d like different thoughts tied to a peestick.  I’d like to have warm, happy feelings when I think about family building.

Because really, how are planted, false memories any different from the false beliefs we encounter naturally in life?  How is it any different from the happy memories you may have of a relationship before you discovered the person was cheating on you or the happy memories of a friendship before it went south?  The beliefs that feel real and happy in the moment that upon reflection we realize were built on something false that we didn’t know about at the time.  Is it really so far off from that?

Maybe it is.


1 Middle Girl { 03.12.15 at 7:53 am }

I don’t know so much about having false (even if happy) memories being planted. I wouldn’t mind the ability to shift to a happy place on demand as it were, so as to not have to dwell in the not so nice place.

Interesting idea. Hmmmm (Total Recall came to mind).

2 earthandink { 03.12.15 at 9:02 am }

Definitely not. I dislike anything manipulative. I find it especially concerning that one might not know what’s real and what isn’t. For all its problems, I’ll take reality.

3 a { 03.12.15 at 9:23 am }

I’d pass on that – I’m too much of a realist. And the only thing that would encourage me to subject someone else to it would be that the person was suffering from Alzheimer’s. If that would conquer the fear that many patients experience, then I’d be for it.

Of course, this doesn’t account for the secret world where none of this is real and all memories are implanted…in which case, I’d like to speak to quality control about your selection choices.

4 Suzanna Catherine { 03.12.15 at 10:36 am }

I would love the ability to give my mother “happy memories.” I wouldn’t care at all that they were “false.” She is 87 and these last few years have been challenging for her. It would make her life so much better, more peaceful, if she could “remember” “recent visits” from me (we live on opposite coasts) and keep her memories of my brother unspoiled by the reality of his suicide in 2001. I wouldn’t have any problem with that. None at all.

5 Ana { 03.12.15 at 11:25 am }

Yes, I would take them. I’m trying to change my emotional reaction to events through cognitive behavior therapy to help my anxiety—its really hard and slow work. I’d love to have a more relaxing reaction to certain thoughts/events, I don’t mind being manipulated! and I’d give them out to older relatives that truly had hard lives and may not have many happy memories to feed off in their old age.—but not to my children—they have their lives ahead of them, and I want them to be driven to build their own.

6 Sharon { 03.12.15 at 1:37 pm }

Not sure I’d want this for myself, but I can certainly see the benefit to people who have been through severe trauma in being able to replace those memories of traumatic events with something positive.

7 Lori Lavender Luz { 03.12.15 at 5:31 pm }

I’m torn. I mean, I’ve been on a path to deal with What Is, but I’m also thinking perception is reality, so why not?

I’ll be thinking about this for awhile.

8 Justine { 03.12.15 at 8:37 pm }

Nope. I think that the memories, whatever they are, have made me who I am. How do I know that I’d be any better if I had false happy ones? I think I’d be a lot less interesting, complex, sympathetic, understanding … but perhaps that’s the Buddhist-wannabe in me.

9 knottedfingers { 03.13.15 at 12:02 am }

I wouldn’t. I think as a person it would make me lazy to create and find my own happy memories. A Happy memory doesn’t have to be something huge. It can be something small and seemingly insignificant but sometimes you just have to make yourself remember it.

10 Em { 03.15.15 at 12:49 am }

I think I would only do it in a situation such as the one you have described for an elderly relative who was suffering from an illness or someone with depression. Even then, I would have to factor in a lot of things.

There is always the question of whether the other person would want these false memories and what happens if they found out you did it without first consulting them. The only example I can think of is in Red Dwarf when Lister gives Rimmer this false memory of having a girlfriend so that he can experience what it’s like. Ultimately, it ends with him feeling embarrassed and betrayed and asking for his memory of her to be “wiped”. So yes, lots of considerations to be made!

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